Disclosure: AFN’s parent company, AgFunder, is an investor in Aigen.
US agtech startup Aigen has raised a $4 million seed round for its solar-powered robotics platform that automates processes around soil health, providing farmers with more precise plant management and reducing their reliance on chemical inputs.
Aigen co-founder Richard Wurden describes his company’s solar-powered platform as a “closed-loop system for data collection, analytics, and action.”
Its small robots use a mix of sensors, cameras, and software to monitor and manage plants in the field and help farmers make decisions around tasks like weeding and propagation. Precisely monitoring each individual plant also means farmers don’t have to blindly spray an entire field with pesticides in order to protect growth. An invasive weed, for example, can simply be identified by one of Aigen’s robot and removed.
“With the farmers, when we when we have conversations with them as to how can we help improve soil health, one of the biggest responses is, ‘Help us with the weed problem,'” co-founder Kenny Lee tells AFN. “So that is going to be one of the first problems that we’ll be helping to solve.”
At the same time, Aigen is focused on helping farmers improve soil health. Some studies, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘Report on Climate Change and Land,’ estimate that 60% to 75% of soil carbon has been lost due to agricultural land use. Aigen claims that its system can help counter such losses by automating on-farm processes that don’t require consumables such as fuel, and by effectively replacing chemical use that deteriorates soil and its ability to sequester carbon.
“Our mission is to regenerate soil at a planetary scale using using robotics,” Lee says.
“We want to help these farmers get a lower-cost solution [to crop protection, as] we haven’t seen anybody pull that off yet,” says Wurden, who adds — half-jokingly — that he’d like Aigen to be “the next Roundup, but with robotics.”
The pair founded Aigen in 2020 after meeting on the Work on Climate Slack community.
“Rich and Kenny offer a unique combination of hardware, software, and agriculture expertise,” Henry Magun, an associate at NEA, said in a statement. “In a very short period of time, they developed a novel solution that is easy to deploy, convenient to manage, and most of all, helpful to farmers.”
Besides working on weeding and propagating functionalities, Aigen will continue to improve its platform over the short term before fully releasing it to the public.
“We’re still doing quite a bit of development,” Wurden tells AFN. “We want to get this right for farmers so we can scale it out.”
He and Lee expect to get a product into the hands of customers by the end of 2022, with a wider launch likely in 2023.
The bulk of the seed capital will go towards hires, with the company set to open the doors to its new headquarters in Kirkland, Washington next month.